Game Day Preview: Panthers vs. Maple Leafs


FLORIDA PANTHERS: 6-4-3 (13 pts.) vs. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: 9-4-1 (19 pts.)

GAME TIME: 7:00 P.M. Eastern



After a homestand where the Florida Panthers picked up three of six points, the boys go off on a quick two game Canadian road trip which begins in Toronto this evening against the improved Toronto Maple Leafs.  It was a frustrating homestand for the Panthers as they lost all three games on their homestand in the shootout.  While the middle game against the Chicago Blackhawks saw the Panthers come from behind to tie things up, that match was sandwiched between losses to Winnipeg and Tampa where the Panthers could have won in regulation.  Ed Jovanovski has this to say regarding the recent frustration:

"“We’ve (thrown) away points,” defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. “We should have three or four extra points by now. It comes around to bite you in the (butt) towards the end.”"

Jovo is right, and the Panthers need to get things in order sooner rather than later, as points lost in October and November cannot be made up in March or April.  A common theme however seems to be reappearing once again, as the last six games have been decided by one goal, and they have surrendered third period leads in two of those three contests.  All losses have been the result in my mind of really three things.  Sloppy play in the defensive zone, lack of balanced scoring, and something that I’ve been preaching for a few games now, physicality.  We need to clean up, take advantage of scoring opportunities, and be tougher to play against.  I have noticed that certain players have actually had the “Game” on their stick, but haven’t been able to close the deal.

With the expectations higher this season, and the talent level superior, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be closing out these close games.  Dmitry Kulikov who’s had in my opinion a slow defensive start has offensively been involved with seven points in his last seven games.  Soupy leads the team in assists and picked up his first goal of the year against Tampa, and Kris Versteeg has 13 points in 13 games.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that Jack Skille, even though he’s working hard, has yet to light the lamp, along with Marco Sturm Scottie Upshall has been frustrating, as well as frustrated, and we desperately need him to get on a hot streak and soon.

The Toronto Maple Leafs meanwhile are coming off their worst defensive performance of the season, falling 7-0 to the Boston Bruins on Saturday night in a game that was brutal to watch.  The Leaf’s biggest problem seems to be their penalty killing unit which is a league’s worst 70.9%.  A part of the game that coach Ron Wilson is not at all happy with.  In addition, their power play is sputtering along at only a 15.2% clip.  Coach Wilson had this comment about the team’s special teams’  play:

"“It’s something that we’re focused on both parts of our specials teams, we’re working on it ad nauseum watching countless video,” coach Ron Wilson said. “And at some point it’s going to click in, I hope.”"

Phil Kessel is playing some outstanding hockey finally and has 21 points in 13 games to lead the Leafs as well as the entire NHL.  Kessel’s 10 goals also find him tied with Steven Stamkos for the league lead.  Whether  Kessel can continue that pace will be seen, as he’ll have a new centerman tonight as Tyler Bozak fills in for the recently injured Tim Connoly who’s out for about 10-14 days with an upper body injury.  Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson gets the start in goal with James Reimer out with concussion symptoms.  Jonas hasn’t been too sharp as his 3.68 GAA indicates, and he himself is worried about his play, and knows he needs to pick it up.  Also, young defenceman Luke Schenn will be back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch on Saturday.

The home teams won all the games last season, and the Leafs have picked up at least one point in 10 of the past 14 matchups between the two teams.  The Leafs this season are a cozy 5-1-1 at the ACC, and are third overall in the NHL, and second in the Eastern Conference.  The Panthers are 15th overall in the NHL and 8th in the East.  Jose Theodore will get the start in goal for the Panthers tonight.

Nerdy Stats:

* Toronto leads the series all time with a 29-18-7-2 record.

* Phil Kessel has 7 goals against the Panthers.  The most of any Leaf player.

* Clarke Mac Arthur has registered 28 PIM’s against Florida, more than any other NHL club he’s faced.

* The Leafs lead the NHL with 236 blocked shots.

* Phil Kessel was also named the NHL’s first star of the month for October with 18 points.

* Ron Wilson has won 628 games as a NHL coach placing him 6th all time behind Iron Mike Keenan (672).

* I like the name of Leaf forward Joey Crabb.

* Tomas Fleischmann is two assists away from 100 in his career.

* The Florida Panthers have registered at least one point in 7 of the last 10 games in Toronto.

* Stephen Weiss is a native of Toronto and in 28 games has 22 points (8g, 14a)

* A win tonight by the Florida Panthers would give them their best start since 1996-1997 when they were 9-1-4.


* Kris Versteeg played 53 games for Toronto last season getting 35 points (14g-21a).

* Scott Clemmensen played three games for Toronto in 2007-2008.  He was 1-1-0 with a 3.90 GAA with a .839 SA%.

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